Wednesday, May 14, 2014, 10:36
Indian PM prepares to bid a quiet adieu
By Nirmala Ganapathy/The Straits Times

 Indian PM prepares to bid a quiet adieu
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh holds up his ink-marked finger as he poses for a photograph after casting his ballot at a polling station in Guwahati, the capital of the northeastern state of Assam on April 24, 2014. (Photo / AFP)

NEW DELHI - Amid the din of raucous political campaigning, hysteria of exit polls and high anticipation of election results in India, one man has been quietly preparing to say good-bye after a decade in power.

He has written farewell notes to various heads of state and foreign leaders, is wrapping up his final commitments and has packed his most precious possessions as he plans to leave 7RCR or Seven Race Course Road on Thursday.

Indeed, Dr Manmohan Singh is clearing the way for the next occupant of the prime minister's official residence, who will take over from him after results are announced in India's nine-stage elections spread over 72 days. Saturday will be Dr Singh's last day in office after two terms at the helm of Asia's third largest economy.

While bidding his colleagues farewell in his final Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Dr Singh also took the Congress-led coalition's last executive decisions: Apppointing a successor to the current Army chief who will retire in July and clearing Foreign Direct Investment in the pharma sector.

The meeting was one of the top news items in a space that was for the duration of the elections dominated by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party's Narendra Modi, the anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party's Arvind Kejriwal, and the Congress' Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra.

Dr Singh was in the news too but not in a way an outgoing premier of world's largest democracy would want.

Two books, released within days of each other last month as polls were underway, made public some not-so-unknown truths about the man who had already announced he would not seek a third term.

One book by Dr Singh's former press adviser revealed that the premier's authority was often undermined by the Gandhi family which heads the ruling Congress party, while the other by a former bureaucrat accused Dr Singh of being weak and unable to stamp out corruption. His embarassment was exacerbated when his half-brother joined opposition Bharatiya Janata Party before polls.

Mostly absent from Congress campaign tours, he did visit a few regions including Assam state which he represents in the Upper House of parliament. But, his speeches did not receive media attention as much as rallies by the Gandhi family, and his aides said the prime minister insisted "young leaders" of the party stay in the limelight instead.

Perhaps the only words of appreciation for Dr Singh thus far came, ironically, from leader of opposition BJP Arun Jaitley, who wrote in his blog on Tuesday that the premier was a wise man and his personal integrity was always above board. "He will remain an elder statesman and a man of credibility to guide the nation. Only if he had stood up at the right time and disagreed he would have been regarded with still a greater honour," Jaitley wrote.

The final few days are packed for Dr Singh as he attends dinners hosted in his honour by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and wraps up other commitments before leaving office.

On Thursday, he will move to a bungalow not far from Mrs Gandhi's residence in the posh Lutyen's Zone in Delhi. Reports said Dr Singh has insisted minimum renovation be carried out in his new home, and total expenditure for furnishing not exceed rupees 250,000 (US$3,994).

Of the several items he plans to take with him to his new house are gifts from foreign leaders during his tenure - most of them books.

On Friday, he is scheduled to address the country for the last time as prime minister. "He is likely to use the occasion to defend the record of the UPA government in the last 10 years," Dr Ronojoy Sen, senior research fellow at Singapore's Institute of South Asian Studies told The Straits Times.

The Cambridge-educated economist had presided over the country's highest ever growth rate in a 10-year period and had pushed for the India-US civil nuclear deal. But, graft scandals and policy paralysis had rocked his second term.

Post-retirement life for the 81-year-old workaholic Dr Singh does not include a holiday, sources said. Instead he will be seen in the Upper House of parliament representing his constitutency, to which he was reelected for the fifth time, till 2019.